This poem from the New Kingdom period (1326 BCE) celebrates an Egyptian victory over a people known as the Khita, who were related to the Hittites. The poem was inscribed on walls in the Temple of Karnak (pictured below, as it looked in 1914 CE).
Ancient Egyptian civilization, arising in the Nile River valley, benefited from the steady, regular Nile floods which provided a consistent, predictable food source. Egyptian society went through periods of unity and disunity (known as “Kingdoms” to historians) over its long history.
The Precepts of Ptah-Hotep, dating from around 2200 BCE, during the Old Kingdom period, is an example of “wisdom literature.” Literature of this type uses stories and proverbs to convey philosophical ideas as well as practical advice.
The Hitties were a tribal, nomadic people who emerged from the Anatolia plateau in the 17th century BCE to establish a large regional state, capturing many of the city states of Sumeria. This selection from their extensive law code focuses on issues of sex and gender.
The Code of Hammurapi, dating from around 1772 BCE is one of the earliest sets of laws from human civilization. These excerpts address several different aspects of Sumerian society including gender, class, and slavery.
This excerpt, from around 2200 BCE, gives us a glimpse of everyday life for people in the Akkadian state.
The region which was home to the first civilizations and states of the Tigris and Euphrates river valley systems became known by its Greek name, Mesopotamia or “land between the rivers.”
Sargon of Akkad (“Agade,” in this document) was a ruler who ruled the Akkadian state from 2334 BCE to 2279 BCE. The Akkadians were the first to conquer the many Sumerian city-states and unify them under one government. This document dates from later, after 1000 BCE
- Whoever has walked with truth generates life.
- Do not cut off the neck of that which has had its neck cut off.
- That which is given in submission becomes a medium of defiance.
- The destruction is from his own personal god; he knows no savior.
- Wealth is hard to come by, but poverty is always at hand.
- He acquires many things, he must keep close watch over them.
- A boat bent on honest pursuits sailed downstream with the wind; Utu has sought out honest ports for it.
- He who drinks too much beer must drink water.
- He who eats too much will not be able to sleep.
- Since my wife is at the outdoor shrine, and furthermore since my mother is at the river, I shall die of hunger, he says.
- May the goddess Inanna cause a wife to lie down for you; May she bestow upon you broad-armed sons; May she seek out for you a place of Happiness.
- The fox could not build his own house, and so he came to the house of his friend as a conqueror.
- The fox, having urinated into the sea, said “The whole of the sea is my urine.”
- The poor man nibbles at his silver.
- The poor are the silent ones of the land.
- All the households of the poor are not equally submissive.
- A poor man does not strike his son a single blow; he treasures him forever.
Questions for consideration:
- What–if anything–do these examples of proverbs, or wise sayings, tell us about Sumerian society in general? What kinds of conclusions are we as historians able to draw, and where must we be cautious?
- Similarly, what do these proverbs tell us about social class and gender–remember, also consider what we cannot know from documents like this!